CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Tuesday urged supporters to unify as a dispute with the government over a recent gubernatorial election in Barinas state intensified.
Local and regional elections were held across Venezuela on Nov. 21, resulting in a sweeping victory for the ruling Socialist party, which picked up 19 governorships, while opposition politicians claimed three.
On Monday, the Supreme Court disqualified opposition candidate Freddy Superlano from the vote in Barinas, citing pending administrative investigations against him, and ordered a re-run in January. Initial results had suggested Superlano was likely to eke out a victory in a close-run contest.
“Let’s use this moment in Barinas to reunify the democratic forces and demand (proper) conditions” for elections, said Guaido, who is recognized by the United States and many other Western countries as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. The opposition views the Supreme Court as beholden to Maduro’s government.
Superlano’s disqualification was unjust, Guaido added, speaking at a demonstration in Caracas. Superlano has accused the ruling party of refusing to accept a legitimate defeat.
Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Barinas, a Socialist party stronghold and birthplace of deceased ex-President Hugo Chavez, was the only state that had yet to be called late on Monday, when the court ordered fresh elections to take place on Jan. 9 and disqualified Superlano from holding public office.
Superlano was challenging Socialist party incumbent Argenis Chavez, the former president’s younger brother, who resigned as governor on Tuesday and said he would not seek re-election in January.
The Supreme Court said projections by electoral authorities indicated that Superlano had secured 37.6% of the vote, versus 37.21% for Chavez.
“But we consider that the condition of Superlano’s ineligibility… violates the principals of equality, equity and transparency in the participation of candidates,” the court said in a statement, without giving further details.
Members of Chavez’s family have governed the province for two decades and it is unclear who will replace him as Socialist party candidate.
The opposition has not said whether it will support a continued bid by Superlano, nor have the authorities said whether it will allow him to participate in the January election.
Keeping the governorship is important to the ruling party because a loss could be perceived as evidence of intra-party fractures, said Benigno Alarcon, head of the center for political and government studies at Caracas’ Universidad Catolica Andres Bello.
“It could be the visible part of a conflict inside the regime,” he said.
President Nicolas Maduro and his allies have long denied differences of opinion within the Socialist party, saying they are united, unlike the opposition.
(Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Deisy Buitrag; Writing by Oliver Griffin and Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)